Fanatical Yankee Utopians
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
In his brilliant LRC article, "The Yankee Problem in America," Clyde Wilson describes how America came to be ruled by a peculiar sect of religious, statist fanatics that originated in New England and became known as "Yankees." Not all Northerners are/were "Yankees," Professor Wilson wrote, for many are obviously fine people. He was referring to "that peculiar ethnic group descended from New Englanders, who can be easily recognized by their arrogance, hypocrisy, greed, lack of congeniality, and penchant for ordering other people around." They "have never given up the notion that they are the chosen saints whose mission is to make America, and the world, into the perfection of their own image." Today we would call them "neocons" or "Hillary Clinton supporters."
A "Yankee" is "self-righteous, ruthless, and self-aggrandizing," which is why Hillary Clinton is "a museum-quality specimen of the Yankee," writes Professor Wilson. The Yankee temperament, moreover, "makes a neat fit with the Stalinism that was brought into the Deep North by later immigrants." (He was obviously referring to the burgeoning communist movement in New York City in the early twentieth century, which produced so-called "red diaper babies" such as the former communist rabble rouser David Horowitz.)
In another LRC essay entitled "Saint Hillary and the Religious Left," Murray Rothbard noted the tendency of the Yankees, rooted in New England, upstate New York, and the upper Mid-West in the nineteenth century, to embark on a "fanatical drive" in "devoting tireless energy to bringing about, as rapidly as they can, their own egalitarian, collectivist version of a Kingdom of God on Earth." The Yankee "kingdom" is "egalitarian and collectivist, with private property stamped out, and the world being run by a cadre or vanguard of Saints."
Even when the Yankees embraced abolitionism it was rarely, if ever, because of any concern about the well-being of slaves. As Professor Wilson writes: "abolitionism, as opposed to antislavery sentiment shared by many Americans, including Southerners . . . was not based on sympathy for the black people nor on an ideal of natural rights. It was based on the hysterical conviction that Southern slaveholders were evil sinners who stood in the way of fulfillment of America's divine mission to establish Heaven on Earth . . . . [M]any abolitionists expected that evil Southern whites and blacks would disappear and the land be repopulated by virtuous Yankees."
Armed with this fanatical, socialistic, utopian ideology, Yankees crusaded to stamp out all "sin," which included at various times private property ownership, alcohol, tobacco, marriage, the family, any form of entertainment, meat eating, and the Catholic church. Today's Yankee, writes Professor Wilson, is the "builder of the all-powerful ‘multicultural' therapeutic state (with himself giving the orders and collecting the rewards) which is the perfection of history and which is to be exported to all peoples, by guided missiles on women and children if necessary . . ."
In his new book, A Conservative History of the American Left, Daniel J. Flynn devotes most of the first hundred pages to describing various parts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Yankee-ism. There was Ann Lee, who migrated from England to New England around the time of the American Revolution and became a leader of the Shakers, who were known to shake violently and speak in tongues. She believed she was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and was obsessed with accusing others of "whoredom" and bestiality, among other things.
The Shakers spread "from New York and New England," to Ohio and Kentucky, and considered communism to be a part of their "religion." They opposed marriage and the family as being in opposition to communism, just as The Communist Manifesto did.
Then there were the "Harmonists" or "Rappites," founded by one George Rapp in the early 1800s in Harmony, Indiana. Rapp enforced a "puritan atmosphere" where, after he fathered four children, he forbade his followers from having sex. Rapp's followers followed his every direction as he promised them a communist utopia on Earth.
The "Zoarites" of eastern Ohio attempted to create another communistic utopia in the 1830s. "In heaven there is only communism" was their credo. They promised to eliminate selfishness, bad habits, and vices generally.
Perhaps the most famous Yankee socialist experiment was the one in New Harmony, Indiana, which was renamed from George Rapp's Harmony by one Robert Owen. New Harmony, founded in 1826, was based on the idea that private property is "absurd and irrational." Owen sought to eliminate private property as well as personal responsibility, the family, religion, and marriage in order to produce his own version of heaven on earth. There were Owenite clubs in various communities in America, and it was the Owenites who coined the word "socialism." Their core belief was the abrogation of individual responsibility. The state, run by people like themselves, should be responsible for everything instead. Man is not responsible for his own actions, they said. Based on such a harebrained philosophy, New Harmony only lasted for two years. Despite the disaster of New Harmony, there were various Owenite copycats, such as Ohio's Friendly Association for Mutual Interests and the Yellow Springs (Ohio) community, each of which lasted only a few months.
In a chapter entitled "Yankee Utopians" Daniel Flynn describes the huge popularity of Owen's successor, the Frenchman Charles Fourier, who never came to America himself, although his philosophy did. Like Owen and the others, Fourier claimed to have been personally informed of "God's Plan" for humanity and generously shared it with others. The plan included the abolition of marriage, of free enterprise and private property, and of traditional religion. It advocated communal living and "free love," which would supposedly "level the erotic playing field for the ugly, shy, and awkward."
Many of New England's and New York's leading citizens were devotees of Fourierism. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley extolled Fourier's ideas on the front page of his newspaper in 1842 and continued to promote them for years.
Fourier's philosophy came to be known as "associationalism," which was championed in New England by the "Transcendentialists." "From their Puritan forbears," Flynn writes, "Transcendentalists retained moral righteousness" and "the conviction that they were the elect." Ralph Waldo Emerson was perhaps the best known of this peculiar sect, which founded another communistic society called "Brook Farm" in Massachusetts. Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne celebrated these "communitarians" in his novel, The Blithedale Romance. Meanwhile, Brook Farm was populated mostly by "Boston Brahmins, Harvard graduates," and "descendants of the Pilgrims."
In true Yankee fashion Ralph Waldo Emerson described various Foureristic fads as vegetarianism, free love, séances, water cures, and temperance as "a fertility of projects for the salvation of the world!" Even the insects would be "protected" in the new communistic utopia, wrote Emerson, with a society that stood "for the protection of ground-worms, slugs and mosquitoes . . ."
Horace Greeley announced that he would rather be president of a Fourier community known as the "North American Phalanx" than president of the United States. Twenty-nine Fourier communities were eventually created, none of which lasted for more than two years despite the extreme enthusiasm for them by New England's best and brightest.
Despite all of these miserable failures, Greeley's New York Tribune continued to promote them. Ralph Waldo Emerson was persuaded to participate in another Massachusetts "associationalist" community that was appropriately named "Fruitland," populated by such nuts as one Samuel Larned, "a vegetarian who dined exclusively on apples one year and crackers the next . . ."
A large number of prominent New Englanders who would hold key positions in the Lincoln administration or in the U.S. Army in the 1860s participated in the "delusional schemes " of "this muddleheaded lunatic" [Fourier], writes Flynn. In addition to Greeley, this included Charles Dana, who would be Lincoln's assistant secretary of defense; Robert Gould Shaw, the leader of the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Infantry Regiment during the War Between the States who spent his childhood at Brook Farm; the abolitionist Theodore Weld; and William Henry Channing, the chaplain of Congress during the War Between the States.
As Professor Wilson noted, upstate New York became part of the "Yankee Belt" by the nineteenth century. So the region was naturally hospitable to John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community and author of a book entitled History of American Socialisms. Noyes called himself a "perfectionist," as did his followers. "Most perfectionists," Flynn wrote, were "descendants of New England Puritans." They eventually came to call themselves "Bible Communists." They practiced "free love" where women were considered to be "community property." Children were removed from their parents shortly after birth and raised by "the community." The notion that "it takes a village to raise a child" is a very old communistic idea. Like all the other communities based on communistic ideas, Oneida collapsed after only a few years.
After the failed socialist revolutions in France and Germany in 1848, the Yankee Belt proved to be hospitable to immigrant intellectuals and political rabble-rousers from those countries who wanted to plant the seeds of communism in America. One Joseph Wedemeyer "laid the groundwork for bringing socialism from Europe to America" and found a "home" for the publication of the writings of Marx and Engels "in Horace Greeley's . . . New York Tribune" which had "played so crucial a role in propagandizing for that earlier socialist prophet Charles Fourier." Various communist clubs were established which became affiliated with the First International, which was vigorously supported by Greeley and Massachusetts politician Wendell Phillips.
The Yankees of New England, Northern New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the upper Mid-West (the Yankee Belt) would eventually support a presidential candidate who appeared to be as odd and peculiar as the Fouriers, Rappites, and Owens's. He was a teetotaler who disavowed traditional religion by never becoming a Christian or joining any church; he was a lifelong manic-depressive who was so obsessed with talking about suicide that his friends once removed all knives and razors from his house. He attended séances and wrote poems about suicide with titles like "The Suicide's Soliloquy." He suffered several nervous breakdowns; took a primitive anti-depression drug that contained a heavy dose of mercury; consumed opiates and cocaine; and is said to have "gone crazy" according to some of his closest friends. He spent much of his life brooding in misery over the fact that he may die before ever becoming famous. I am talking about Abraham Lincoln, as described in the book Lincoln's Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenck. It was Lincoln, more than anyone else, who saw to it that America would be ruled to this day by Yankee utopians who are still hard at work trying to create their own version of heaven on earth (and profiting very handsomely while they're at it).
The remaining chapters of A Conservative History of the American Left contain very well researched descriptions and analyses of all varieties of American statists, from the "progressives" to the New Dealers, twentieth-century communists, the "New Left" ("Same as the Old Left," says Flynn), and the politically-correct totalitarians who rule today's college campuses.
One glaring omission, however, is that Flynn doesn't make the obvious connection between the Yankee utopians of the nineteenth century and today's "neocons." The Bush regime — and the Republican Party generally — is completely dominated by neocons with the Yankee mentality described in the first paragraphs of this article: arrogant, ruthless utopians who believe they have a God-given right to remake the entire world in their own image. As such, they belong on "the American Left," not the right, as Professor Paul Gottfried has repeatedly argued.
June 3, 2008
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).
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